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To read the specific laws in the WA State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) links throughout the Tenant Services website.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.
Domestic Violence Protections for Renters
- Domestic Violence and Your Housing Rights
- Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking
- For Domestic Violence Survivors and their Family, Friends and Co-workers
1. Breaking a Lease
The Landlord-Tenant Act allows survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment to break a lease and move if necessary. Tenants needing to break their lease for these reasons must provide the landlord with either a valid order of protection or a report from a qualified third party regarding the incident. “Qualified third party” can include law enforcement, health care professionals, state court employees, mental health professionals, clergy members, or domestic violence/crime prevention advocates. In addition to providing the landlord with a copy of the valid order for protection or report from a qualified third party, tenants must also notify their landlord in writing within 90 days of the incident that they are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment. The report from the qualified third party must include specific information about the incident. See Washington Law Help’s Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and/or Stalking for sample letters and a sample report from a qualified third party.
Tenants must notify the landlord that they will be moving out within 90 days of the specific incident. The 90-day time frame specifically refers to the date of the incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment and not the date the order for protection was granted, nor the date the incident was reported. You do not have to provide your landlord with the name of the abuser if you do not feel comfortable doing so.
Tenants who break their lease because of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment will be released from any obligations under the rental agreement, but still have to pay rent for the entire month in which they vacated the unit. They will be entitled to an accounting for their deposit within 21 days and a refund of the deposit, minus any damages to the unit beyond normal wear and tear. Survivors can sometimes be held responsible for damages caused to the unit as a result of the incident of domestic violence, but may be able to access Victims of Crime Financial Benefits to pay these costs. The perpetrator of the domestic violence may also be liable for these damages. For more information, see Deposits. Any other tenants on the rental agreement will not be released from their obligations under the Landlord-Tenant Actor the rental agreement unless they are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment and follow the guidelines outlined in RCW 59.18.575.
If your landlord or apartment manager is the perpetrator or abuser, you have the right to break your lease and vacate the unit without having to pay rent remaining on the lease. You must obtain a valid protection order or report from a qualified third party and deliver it within 7 days of vacating the unit. You can deliver it by mail, fax, or personal delivery from a friend or relative. This record of report must not contain the name of the abuser, but if the landlord requests the name, and the abuser was an employee of the landlord, the qualified third party must supply it to them. You will be released from the obligation to pay rent following the latter of either the date you vacated the unit, or the date the report from the qualified third party was delivered to the landlord. You also would be entitled to a refund of your deposit, minus any damage to the unit beyond normal wear and tear, and a deposit statement must be sent to you within 21 days of vacating. For more information, see Deposits.
2. Changing Your Locks
If the abuser lives with you: If a tenant has a valid protection order against someone who is also on the lease, they can request that the landlord change the locks on the unit, at the tenant’s expense. If the tenant provides the landlord with a valid copy of the order of protection against someone else on the lease, the landlord must change the locks and cannot give copies of the new keys to the tenant excluded from the home. The excluded tenant is not released from their obligations under the rental agreement and is still responsible for paying rent on the unit.
If the abuser is your landlord: A tenant who is the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment by a landlord may change or add locks to the unit at their own expense. Within 7 days of doing so, they must provide the landlord written notice that they have changed or added locks along with a valid order for protection or a report from a qualified third party. This record of report must not contain the name of the abuser, but if the landlord requests the name, and the abuser was an employee of the landlord, the qualified third party must supply it to them.
If you change your locks for this reason, your lease will automatically terminate 90 days after the date you provided notice to the landlord, unless you notify your landlord in writing within 60 days that you do not wish to terminate the rental agreement. If the perpetrator is no longer an employee or agent of the landlord and does not live at the property, you must then provide the landlord with a copy of the new keys at the same time you send notice that you do not wish to terminate the rental agreement. If you have a valid protection order against the landlord or an employee of the landlord, you do not have to send a copy of the new keys. If you do not send notice that you wish to stay in the unit, you will be released from any obligations under the rental agreement, but still have to pay rent for the entire month in which you vacated the unit. The tenant will be entitled to an accounting for their deposit within 14 days and a refund of the deposit, minus any damages to the unit beyond normal wear and tear. For more information, see Deposits.
If you change or add locks to your unit because of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment by a landlord, the landlord can only enter the unit in case of emergency or by giving written notice to enter to make needed repairs or improvements in the unit. Read more about the notice requirements at Privacy Rights.
3. Discrimination against Domestic Violence Survivors
The Landlord-Tenant Act forbids landlords from terminating a tenancy, failing to renew a tenancy, or refusing to enter into a rental agreement because of a tenant’s status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment, or based on a tenant having terminated a rental agreement because of a similar incident. However, tenants who are victims can still be evicted, not have their tenancy renewed, or be refused for tenancy by a landlord for other reasons. If you have not paid your rent, or have violated rules of tenancy for reasons not related to your status as a survivor of domestic violence, the landlord does have the right to serve you with an eviction notice, or choose not renew your tenancy for those reasons.
Tenants who do experience discrimination as a result of their status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment can attempt to sue their landlord in a civil action for damages they sustained because of the landlord’s actions. Discrimination against a survivor may also be a defense in an eviction action if the landlord has initiated the eviction action illegally. For further information see the tenant Legal Assistance Guide. You should also consider contacting your nearest Office of Civil Rights to report the discrimination.
Discrimination based on gender is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Under established fair housing case law, it is not legal to discriminate against women due to a history of domestic violence. Since the vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women, discriminatory actions based on survivorship of domestic violence have a disparate impact on women. This means that women will be more impacted by decisions on the part of landlords to evict entire households following incidents of domestic violence.
In 2011, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced its intent to investigate discrimination claims from domestic violence survivors who live in Low Income Public Housing or Section 8 housing. Contact information for HUD or your local fair housing agency is available at Fair Housing & Disability Laws.
4. Screening Protections for Survivors
TU Victory! This law exists because members of the Tenants Union worked together and fought for it. If you have benefited from this law, go to Tenants Union Membership to find out more about becoming a member to support the TU’s work for housing justice.
Part II of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, SSB 5568" was passed in the summer of 2013, creating necessary protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The new protections require that a tenant screening company not disclose an applicant’s status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. These protections are critical in ensuring that survivors can access housing and secure a safe and stable home for themselves and their families.
When a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking requests a protection order from the court against their abuser, it becomes a public record. In 2004 the legislature passed a bill making it illegal for landlords to use an applicant’s status as a domestic violence survivor against them when considering their rental application. Unfortunately during that process, the rental industry used their political power to remove a section of the bill that would have prohibited the inclusion of domestic violence information in a tenant screening report.
In effect, while it was illegal for a landlord to use a survivor’s protection order record in screening decisions, it was still legal for a landlord to see the record on a tenant screening report. In many respects, survivors were not much better off than they had been prior to 2004: a landlord could still deny a survivor housing based on a pre-textual reason; for example, claiming another applicant had applied first, or for no reason at all. The Fair Tenant Screening Act ends this hidden but still occurring discrimination by prohibiting the disclosure of a survivor’s domestic violence status on a tenant screening report.
This step towards increased access to housing and fair tenant screening follows on the heels of our success last year passing Part I of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, which created more transparency for tenants when we apply for housing. The Tenants Union was a part of a coalition of housing advocates and tenants who worked to support this law, including Solid Ground Tenant Services, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, and Northwest Justice Project.